July 10, 2008
John Reyer Afamasaga’s first novel, “John Lazoo,” is his most accessible, and I recommend reading it first before tackling the rest of his growing body of emotional-techno fiction. While Afamasaga likes to play games with the reader, he also has the ability to create tender emotional scenes, humor based in irony and modern culture, and a sense that the world would be a little more fun if it operated with more of the whimsical manipulation of reality used in his fiction.
The plot of “John Lazoo” is not complicated. James Elton, after a rocky childhood and the death of his mother, decides to take the name of a character from a poem his mother used to read to him. Thus, John Lazoo is born. From this point, the novel plays with issues of personal identity, the difference between fiction and reality, and what is truth.
The newly named John Lazoo arrives in New York City where he quickly becomes part of a fast crowd including Hariss Clariss, a wealthy man instantly infatuated with the attractive man before him. Soon John is working for Clariss as a gigolo—some readers may find the sexual scenes more graphic than they wish. Lazoo is cold-hearted toward his clients, but he soon meets the beautiful woman Genisis Jones and falls in love.
While Afamasaga tends to be satirical, his love scenes are romantically moving—as the lovers fall for one another, the reader falls in love with the characters because of their tenderness toward one another—Afamasaga has stated his goal is for readers to fall in love when reading his novels and here he succeeds, seducing us with beautiful prose. These effective love scenes substantiate Lazoo’s motivations throughout the rest of the novel. He now wants out of his gigolo lifestyle so he can run away with Genisis. However, he has been commissioned for the lead role in the retelling of Hariss Clariss’s life story. When he refuses to play the part, Lazoo suddenly finds himself accused of murder.
Afamasaga enjoys playing with the borderline between life and fiction. While his other novels, “WIPE” and “Illicit Blade of Grass” are intertextual, relying on readers being aware of the characters from the previous novels, in “John Lazoo” the comparison is between life and film. Early in the novel, Lazoo comes home from his sexual day-job to watch movies that begin to color his view of life. He thinks of himself as the star of a film with everyone else as the film’s extras. Like a director planning a scene and considering how viewers will react, Lazoo imagines how the everyday can be reshaped into his desired cinematic life:
He went to the window and looked down on the green grass, the golden sun lighting the park…He saw himself doing something in that area; the activity he was not sure of. The nature of the activity would be humorous to one viewer, yet distressing to another, and maybe it would make another yawn. He waited for the movie menu to change to the current listings and watched the long shadows creep darkness over the park that gave life to the lights and made a skyline of the buildings which had made the shadows previously.
When Lazoo meets Genisis, he realizes, “he had not yet contemplated a co-star to share his cut with, so he looked up high as he decided to permit someone else to lead for one moment. After all, she might have even been good enough for him to follow and therefore support.” Meeting Genisis makes Lazoo long for a better role in life. While his love for Genisis motivates his refusal to play the role of Hariss, Lazoo is also obviously concerned about playing the role of his own choosing, to write his own life-script rather than allow someone else to create him. He decides neither he nor Genisis will be manipulated like fictional characters: “I will take the hand of one Genisis Jones and lead her from this story to an altar far from the lenses and roving eyes and growing appetites of the viewers the editors seek to please by the manipulation of a love so pure.”
Once Lazoo is accused of murder, the plot slows down but the humor picks up as the judicial system is satirized. Differences between truth and fiction are again explored. Lazoo’s defense lawyer, Reyer, tells the jury: “If I had tried to manufacture evidence we would still be watching people on the witness stand being manipulated by my colleague and myself. Yes, manipulated. A harsh word for what we do as lawyers, but a true description of our trade.” The media also tries to distort truth in the novel, to create the story they want rather than the story the characters—or are they real people—have already created for themselves.
To tell how the trial ends would spoil the story. More interesting to me than the conclusion is how the novel opens itself up to future novels. While movies often have corny cliffhangers or hints of a sequel, no hint is given in “John Lazoo” of future books. Yet the character Metofeaz, scarcely mentioned in “John Lazoo,” appears in “Illicit Blade of Grass” where he is famous as the co-author of the novel, “John Lazoo.” Ironically, someone else has written Lazoo’s life. I love the irony of this twist: James Elton transforms himself into a character from a poem who then tries to define himself while others try to define his role and when he thinks he has succeeded in creating his own identity, despite a controlling boss, the law, the media, he ends up becoming the title character of a book—Afamasaga’s game shows that the possibilities are endless, the lines of fiction and reality constantly a blur. I find it delightful.
I encourage readers to try out “John Lazoo.” It is experimental, showing the potentials of fiction’s future without displaying its mechanical seams like too many other postmodern novels. The novel can be downloaded for free at John Reyer Afamasaga’s website www.etfiction.com. Be sure also to read the interview with John Reyer Afamasaga here at Superior Book Productions.
- Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and author of “The Marquette Trilogy”
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